Stop-And-Frisk Lives On

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 6 2013 @ 5:12pm

Joe Lhota’s prognostications of doom (seen above) are looking ever more unfounded. NYC mayor-elect Bill de Blasio appointed William Bratton as his new police commissioner on Thursday. Bratton, who led the NYPD under Giuliani in the ’90s, was the architect of the very same stop-and-frisk program de Blasio ran against during campaign season. Mychal Denzel Smith is disappointed, but not surprised, at the choice:

While he criticized outgoing commissioner Ray Kelly for the “overuse-and-abuse of stop-and-frisk,” de Blasio has stopped short of calling for an end to the policy altogether. He has been in favor a “mend, don’t end” approach, supporting the reforms as handed down by US district court judge Shira Scheindlin as a result of the Floyd v. City of New York case. His choice of Bratton for police commissioner is consistent with his previously stated positions … The mayor-elect had an opportunity to signal a fundamentally new approach to the way policing would be done in NYC, but chose instead the safe and familiar, which has never benefited the communities that elected him to office. De Blasio has always been the most progressive candidate with a chance of winning, not the most progressive.

Heather Mac Donald declares Bratton’s appointment proof of “the limits that now constrain even the most left-leaning urban politicians”:

Though de Blasio demagogued against the NYPD during the election campaign, his selection of Bratton shows that he understands that his mayoralty will be judged first and foremost on whether he maintains New York’s status as the safest big city in America …

Thanks in part to de Blasio himself, the NYPD has been plagued in recent years by specious allegations that it was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics for racially biased pedestrian stops. Bratton understands as well as Kelly, however, that effective, unbiased policing will inevitably produce racially disparate enforcement data, given the vast disparities in crime commission and victimization. In 2012, according to NYPD figures, blacks in New York City committed over 78% of all shootings, for example, though they are only 23% of the city’s population. Whites committed 2.4% of all shootings, though they are nearly 35% of the city’s population. At the same time, blacks were 74% of all shooting victims; whites just under 3%. The ratios of stops to arrests and to population data were virtually identical in the Los Angeles Police Department under Bratton and in Kelly’s NYPD.

Drawing on an interview of Bratton from this May, Jeffrey Toobin suggests that his understanding of stop-and-frisk differs both from de Blasio’s and from that of Bloomberg’s commissioner Ray Kelly:

Bratton emphatically endorsed stop-and-frisk as a police tactic. “First off, stop-question-and-frisk has been around forever,” he told me. “It is known by stop-and-frisk in New York, but other cities describe it other ways, like stop-question-and-frisk or Terry stops. It’s based on a Supreme Court case from 1968, Terry v. Ohio, which focused very significantly on it. Stop-and-frisk is such a basic tool of policing. It’s one of the most fundamental practices in American policing. If cops are not doing stop-and-frisk, they are not doing their jobs. It is a basic, fundamental tool of police work in the whole country. If you do away with stop-and-frisk, this city will go down the chute as fast as anything you can imagine.”

We also discussed the current controversy over stop-and-frisk under Raymond Kelly, Bloomberg’s Police Commissioner. “What you have right now is a controversy in which nobody really understands what they are fighting about,” Bratton said. “Stop-and-frisk is not a tool solely to look for guns. Unfortunately, both the Mayor and the Police Commissioner refer to it that way, and that’s a problem because so few guns are recovered. But so what? The vast majority of stops are for a wide variety of things. Is someone drinking a can of beer on the corner? You want to stop that behavior. If somebody is aggressively panhandling on the street, urinating against a building. Is there somebody that you suspect is casing a building? Or is that two guys just locked out of their apartment? Police officers notice what may be a burglary. Of course they should be noticing and investigating. There are countless examples of what you want police to do.”

Brad Knickerbocker unearths another Bratton interview in which he emphasized the importance of consistency and public trust in police work:

“I’ve spent my life in the police profession, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “But I am also very cognizant of the profession’s limitations, its potential for abuse, and its potential negative impact.”

“Policing has to be done compassionately and consistently,” Bratton continued. “You cannot police differently in Harlem than you’re policing downtown. The same laws must apply. The same procedures must be employed. Certain areas at certain times may have more significant crime and require more police presence, or more assertiveness, but it has to be balanced. If an African-American or a recent immigrant – or anyone else, for that matter – can’t feel secure walking into a police station or up to a police officer to report a crime, because of a fear that they’re not going to be treated well, then everything else that we promise is on a shaky foundation.”

Adam Serwer is cautiously optimistic about Bratton:

Despite his ties to Giuliani, Bratton may be better prepared to handle an overhaul of the NYPD than he might appear. After running the NYPD, Bratton led the Los Angeles Police Department through court-ordered reforms monitored by the Justice Department. The LAPD had its own toxic relationship with racial minorities in the city, but a 2009 study showed that crime continued to decline even as police abuses were reined in and relations with city residents were improved.

Mike Riggs highlights Bratton’s support for putting cameras on cops:

Even though it’s unclear what will happen with stop-and-frisk, there is one policy on which Bratton has made his opinion known, and that’s on-body cameras for officers. “So much of what goes on in the field is ‘he-said-she-said,’ and the camera offers an objective perspective,” Bratton told The New York Times earlier this year. “Officers not familiar with the technology may see it as something harmful. But the irony is, officers actually tend to benefit. Very often, the officer’s version of events is the accurate version.”

Ronald Bailey recently made the case for to equipping cops with cameras:

Won’t police officers resist wearing video cameras? Initially, perhaps. But most patrol officers are now becoming comfortable with dashboard cameras in their cruisers. A 2004 study for the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that in cases where police misconduct was alleged, in-car video evidence exonerated officers 93 percent of the time.

The same report further noted that dashboard cameras enhanced officer safety, improved agency accountability, reduced liability, simplified incident review, enhanced new recruit training, improved community perceptions, helped advance case resolution, and enhanced officer performance and professionalism. … Body-worn cameras will clearly augment all of those objectives. And it will accomplish an important democratic task as well: turning the tables on the functionaries of the surveillance state. It gives citizens better protection against police misconduct and against violations of their constitutional rights. And it protects good cops against unfair accusations, too.

Bailey also discussed this issue earlier in the year.